Jefferson Airplane: The Worst of Jefferson Airplane

Christian John Wikane

Remastered collection of vintage Airplane feeds more than your head.

Jefferson Airplane

The Worst of Jefferson Airplane

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2006-06-06
UK Release Date: 2006-06-12

The Worst of Jefferson Airplane is the first stop along an "embryonic journey" for Jefferson Airplane virgins. Originally released in 1970, this repackaged edition by RCA/Legacy boasts 17 remastered tracks culled from the six albums Jefferson Airplane recorded between 1966 and 1969. For those keeping score, six of those tracks hit the Billboard Top Pop Singles chart, though the Airplane's elaborate musical sensibilities did not often equate three-minute Top 40 singles. Wisely, the producers of this edition keep the disc's running time under 60 minutes and don't weigh it down with too many additional cuts that, while certainly of artistic merit, would disrupt the flow of the original song sequence selected by the Airplane (two bonus cuts are included, nestled between what were "Side A" and "Side B" on the LP). Fans of the band will surely have personal favorites that are not represented, but The Worst of Jefferson Airplane remains a superb introduction to a seminal band whose reach extended far beyond the storied 1960s Haight-Ashbury music scene.

How does the music of Jefferson Airplane play in 2006? Inevitably, some of their songs smack of psychedelic rock clichés -- sitars, distortion, lengthy guitar solos -- but the lyrics resonate more than ever. Of the San Francisco Bay Area bands, Jefferson Airplane took the pulse of the late 1960s countercultural revolution and fashioned the collective angst of their audience into subversive three-minute diatribes. Imagine, for a moment, that RCA/Legacy had more than commercial interests at heart when planning this re-release. The 2006 issue of The Worst of Jefferson Airplane just so happens to coincide with a particularly volatile moment in western culture that is reminiscent of the late 1960s socio-cultural landscape. Depending on your political persuasion, there is much to raise your hand about in solidarity with vocalists Marty Balin, Grace Slick, and Paul Kantner.

"When the truth is found/ To be lies" opens the Airplane's 1967 hit, "Somebody to Love". The incessant beat of Spencer Dryden's drum may set the body in motion, but the lyrics stimulate a different type of movement -- one of the mind. Rarely, if ever before, had the opening line to a song on AM radio so boldly challenged the political hegemony. Of course, this is one of a few possible interpretations. Here's an exercise to try after you've bought your copy of this CD: transcribe the lyrics to "Somebody to Love" and see what additional meanings you can derive.

Christening themselves "volunteers of America" two years later on the title track to Volunteers (1969), Jefferson Airplane was steadfast in raising the consciousness of their audience and invoking listeners to take action in the name of peace and civil rights. Much to RCA Records' reticence, the band embedded contumacious sentiments in their lyrics to "We Can Be Together" on the Volunteers album. Sung in a deceptively sunny three-part harmony, this rallying call issued a bold command: "Up against the wall motherfuckers". Arguments ensued between RCA and the Airplane about this objectionable lyric but history proves which party prevailed...

If lyrics were bold dabs on the Airplane's palette, then music was the expansive canvas onto which they painted a kaleidoscope of colors. Look no further than Kantner's "The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil" from After Bathing at Baxter's (1967) to hear the Airplane orchestrate a number of musical ideas within a four-and-a-half-minute song. A wave of guitar distortion gives way to a sprightly four-chord rhythm. Voices wrap around each other like intertwining vines. Drum cymbals are smashed about with abandon. Balin and Kantner sing in unison as Slick's voice sneaks up from behind to form a crescendo of otherworldly vibratos. Yet Jefferson Airplane was also capable of crafting irresistible, straightforward melodic hooks. Just press play after loading The Worst of Jefferson Airplane into your stereo and you'll hear a danceable piece of folk-rock on "It's No Secret", a cut from their debut album featuring an impassioned vocal by Balin.

The group's stunning second release, Surrealistic Pillow (1967), provides evidence of how Jefferson Airplane explored a variety of musical styles on one album. Producer Rick Jarrad's brilliant nod to the Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" gives sonic depth to the Balin-Kantner composition "Today", guitarist Jorman Kaukonen's crystalline acoustic guitar work illuminates "Embryonic Journey", and Slick's wondrous ode to peyote, "White Rabbit", appropriates the story of Alice in Wonderland with a bolero rhythm set to marching drum. Once you've absorbed the 17 tracks on The Worst of Jefferson Airplane, procure RCA's reissue of Surrealistic Pillow. By then, you will have completely lost your Airplane virginity.

According to a press release by RCA/Legacy, The Worst of Jefferson Airplane originally served to encapsulate the story of Jefferson Airplane before the band members branched out into other projects (namely, Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship). Nearly 40 years later, the story of Jefferson Airplane is still being told as this collection will -- and should -- find its way into the hands of a new generation of listeners.

Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.